Nurse practitioners hamstrung

A third of Australian nurse practitioners are “extremely limited” by inconsistent prescription legislation.

More than two thirds of Australian nurse practitioners feel that they are “extremely limited” in their work because of a clash between state and federal government legislation, according to the first national survey of nurse practitioners.

At the moment, state legislation permits nurse practitioners to write prescriptions and refer patients to other health professionals but they do not have access to the Commonwealth Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) or Medicare provider numbers.

Professor Glenn Gardner from Queensland University of Technology’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation said the discrepancy means the patients of nurse practitioners are disadvantaged.

“While on the one hand a nurse practitioner can write a prescription for medication, they can’t prescribe from the PBS schedule, which is subsidised by the Commonwealth Government,” she said.

“This means their patients have to pay a lot more to have their script filled at a pharmacy. These patients are being disadvantaged and should enjoy equal access to government subsidies for health care.”

The findings come less than a week after the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) called for greater prescribing rights for nurse practitioners in its federal budget submission.

The submission referred to an unpublished report conducted by the Federal Government and ACT Health which found that nurse practitioners in aged care are “greatly hindered” by a lack of access to the PBS and the Medicare Benefits Schedule.

The ANF’s Acting Federal Secretary told Australian Ageing Agenda that there is particular potential for nurse practitioners in aged care.

“We all know the GP workforce is stretched to the limit and it is very difficult for them to provide care to nursing home residents,” she said.

“Giving nurse practitioners these roles would also help to prevent unnecessary hospital admissions for elderly people.

Professor Gardner said it was essential for the state and federal governments to work together.

“Action needs to be taken now,” she said.

“The Commonwealth Government needs to act to change the legislation and allow nurse practitioners to provide comprehensive health care to meet community needs.”

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